May/June 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 5

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Moving Forward with High School Sociology:
Efforts to Strengthen and Support Teachers

Hayley Lotspeich, Founding Member of CAST (Chicago Area Sociology Teachers) and
ASA High School Program Planning Director

In a 2002 Teaching Sociology article, Michael DeCesare noted that the "most effective way to enhance the quality of high school sociology is to improve the training of those who teach it." It has been my experience that high school teachers understand that this is true and, as such, are willing to pursue professional development, often without compensation or even reimbursement for their efforts. However, as DeCesare made clear in his article, the motivation of individual teachers is not enough to create the change we need.

High school sociology teachers confront structural challenges that differ from those faced by teachers in most other disciplines in high school social studies departments. For sociologists teaching in high schools, there is no option for College Board-endorsed Advanced Placement courses for our accelerated learners. We have no national or state standards. DeCesare’s 2008 study suggests that only around 40 percent of high schools in the United States have a course in sociology. When it is offered at all, there is often only one sociologist working in each school.

A Grassroots Movement

Because of the need for professional development and the passion for our subject, a few colleagues and I formed the Chicago Area Sociology Teachers (CAST) six years ago. Since that time, we have held six annual conferences. One of the most important functions of the CAST group is sharing and discussing controversial and complex teaching issues through our listserv. Together, we consider how to best serve our high school students with challenging, relevant materials. The success of the group can be measured in its growth. Initially the organization had 30 members; while still small, in four years CAST has more than quadrupled in size, with the a current number of 143 members participating in our listserv.

The ASA has supported the work of CAST, and in November of 2009, the ASA sponsored a session at the National Council of the Social Studies (NCSS) in Atlanta. The NCSS is the largest single organization of K-12 social studies teachers in the country. The ASA-sponsored teachers who presented at the meeting were able to widen their circle of teachers participating in the listserv, as well as present a synthesis of the best of what the CAST group had to offer—simulations, readings, and activities that require high-level thinking, and use of the sociological imagination.

Moving to the National Level

While CAST fills a vital need for sociology teachers in the Chicago area, working for structural change requires a larger platform. For that reason I am excited to have accepted a two-year position as the ASA High School Program Planning Director. In this capacity, I am working closely with Jean Shin, ASA Director of Minority Affairs, and Margaret Weigers Vitullo, ASA Director of Academic and Professional Affairs. Together, we have already begun to move forward on concrete initiatives to help high school teachers of sociology.

High School Teachers Can Join ASA!

High school teachers can benefit from ASA resources by joining ASA at a special discounted rate of $60 for 2011. As ASA members, high school teachers receive all of the regular benefits of ASA membership, plus they automatically receive a personal subscription to Contexts and a free subscription to TRAILS, the ASA’s new digital library of teaching resources, which was launched in May of 2010. Through TRAILS, High school teachers now have access to thousands of instructional resources that were previously unavailable to them. In addition, membership benefits have been expanded to include a new ASA High School Teachers discussion listserv, and a quarterly newsletter just for high school teachers of sociology.  For more information on joining ASA as a high school teacher member, visit www.asanet.org and click on "Teaching & Learning" then "High School Sociology."

At the 2011 ASA Annual Meeting

This August,the 106th ASA Annual Meeting will include a special conference for high school teachers. Teachers are encouraged to come to Las Vegas on Friday, August 19 in time for the evening’s Opening Plenary and Welcome Reception and then meet on Saturday, August 20 from 8:00 am until 12:15 pm. This will leave time for teachers to also attend regular sessions in the afternoon on the 20th. The High School Teachers of Sociology Conference keynote speaker will be Dr. Barbara Petzen, the Outreach Director at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Petzen will be speaking on "The Realities and Stereotypes of Teaching Minority Cultures." The High School Sociology Teachers of Sociology Conference will also include a panel discussion on

"Preparing Students for the Successful Transition to College Sociology Courses" that will focus on the core understandings students should have before enrolling in college sociology classes. These presentations will be followed by concurrent roundtables with topics including an introduction to TRAILS—ASA’s teaching resource digital library, networking options for high school sociology, effective lesson plans and readings, and innovative technological resources for high school sociology classes. Teachers will also be invited to attend all of the other sessions of the ASA Annual Meeting, allowing them to hone their teaching skills and update their content knowledge.

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of high school sociology instruction. While starting a regional grassroots group of concerned teachers was an attainable goal, real reform cannot happen without national leadership. Although still in the primary stages, multiple frameworks now exist for professional exchange and curricular development to occur at the national level.

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